Temples in and around Madurantakam

by B. Mekala | 2016 | 71,416 words

This essay studies the Temples found around Madurantakam, a town and municipality in Kancheepuram (Kanchipuram) District in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu. Madurantakam is one of the sacred holy places visited by Saint Ramanuja. It is also a region blessed with many renowned temples which, even though dating to at least the 10th century, yet they c...

Celebrations of various Festivals

Apart from pujas rites and rituals, impressive celebrations of various festivals too brought vast concourse of people to take part in the ritualistic perambulation of deities. Primarily religious in character, these festivals provided an opportunity to the people to fulfil religious obligations and vows. Known as tirunal in Tamil, the temple festivals were ceremonies of social gathering and enjoyment. Festivals were broadly classified into three categories. The festivals that were conducted regularly on dates significant to the deity installed in a temple and were celebrated on the days fixed according to the astronomical calendar belonged to the first category. All festivals instituted by the kings, nobles and other public and charitable institutions formed the second group. Several records views about the conduct of special festivals in many of the temples. For example, on royal orders, land was granted for the conduct of sandhi[1] and to celebrate a festival ending on the day of mula in Masi (February-March) the birth asterism of the king.[2] Festivals arranged for the propitiation of gods and goddesses at times of distress and difficulties such as famine, flood or drought came under the last group.

Festivals marked the joyous occasion of sanctity when people gathered around a temple. They were arranged with great forethought and were fixed according to the seasonal and climatic conditions. This provided facilities for the participation of all classes of people. Generally, festivals were arranged either after planting of crops or harvesting. For instance, the grand brahmotsavam in the great Temple at Madurntakam was held in the month of May when the agriculturists had rest and the teppotsavam or floating ceremony in Masi, soon after the rainy season when the tanks were full to the brim. Named mostly after the Tamil months, festivals like Chittirai, Vaikasi, Ani, Adi, Avani, Purattasi, Aippasi, Karthikai, Margazhi, Thai, Masi and Pankuni were celebrated in the respective months.[3] Tamil epigraphs in the Madurantakam bear evidences to the fact that each and every month was made auspicious for the conduct of festivals. The festivals at Madurantakam were mentioned in the Tamil literature.[4] It states of a seven day festival celebrated, to wash away bad deeds. Ahananuru[5] speaks of the festivals that were celebrated endlessly. Gnanasambandar referred to a number of festivals held in the temples of Madurantakam region.[6] An inscription of Madurantakam region mentions a list of festivals during which the Lord was taken in procession through the streets.[7] Though the conduct of festivals were not compulsory, temples of some prominence arranged atleast the annual festival. However, the number of festivals and their grandeur largely depended on the financial position of each templein Madurantakam region.

A close study of the inscriptions of this region reveals the elaborate arrangement made for the conduct of festivals regularly and systematically in the prescribed months. For, the festivals provided an occasion to the people for spending their time happily, forgetting their daily cares and burdens, at least for a short while. Moreover people believed that those who participated in festivals not only gained spiritual experiences but made them to renew their faith in god. Realising its importance, temples were bristled with festivals all through the year. Different festivals like chittirai barani, chittirai tiruvonam and chittirai vishu were celebrated in the very same month.; The avani avittam and panguni vishu were famous. The main temple at Madurantakam had a long list of festivals on its calendar. They included one forty days festival, one eighteen days festival, one twelve day festival and eight festivals of ten day duration each.[8] Inscriptions engraved on the walls of this temple amply describe the munificent endowments made for the conduct of festivals. From a record of A. D. 1243 it is known about the endowment of twenty five kalam of paddy from the village near Madurantakam for providing offerings and for conducting the puram festival in the month of Aippasi.[9] The important festivals were held in the months of Chittirai, Avdni and Masi, Adi, Purattasi and Aipppasi. During the Chittirai festival Madurantakam was filled with a flood of people moving here and there to take part in the rituals and festivals. Pilgrims from far and near congregate in thousands with their pilgrim stares and banners stayed for days to witness the festival and other worship. Similarly the Masimagam festival celebrated which attracted a large crowd of people who took in the tank. While taking bath, they did not bother about the caste differences and mingled together with a spirit of joy and devotion. Temple festivals were celebrated periodically on specific occasions which attracted saivaites as well as vaishnavites which in turn enabled them to wipe out their sectarian differences. Among the festivals of this temple, the pradhista was most significant. It was celebrated in the month of Ani in remembrance of the pradhista of Siva Linga by Sri Rama and his consort Sita. During the festival, the region became a busy and attractive religious centre. Devotees from the north and south visited during this season every year. The inscriptions engraved in the Madurantakam Temple mention the Chittirai festival, Ani festival and patham thiruvila (ten day festival) conducted in the month of Thai.[10] All these festivals were celebrated with much care.

Besides, the brahmotsavam (annual festival) the teppotsavam (floating ceremony). and the car festival too were the most colourful and impressive ones. Brahmotsavam otherwise known as mahotsavam was the famous festival celebrated for ten days on a spectacular manner in most of the temples in and around Madurantakam. On the first day, the temple flag was raised aloft on the dhvajasthamba (flag mast) and processions were organised in the morning and at night on each of the succeeding nine days. The processional images were decked with grand dress, exquisite jewels and flowers and mounted on various vehicles and were taken in procession through different parts of the villages and streets of the town. The deity was flanked by huge umbrellas and fly whisks. Sacred banners with festoons were carried in the front, followed by troupe of drummers, dancers and musicians, carparisoned elephants, horses and camels too. The streets and road sides were filled with art array of people who eagerly waited for a long time to offer worship and to get divine dharsan. The pious devotees believed that it was incumbent to watch the festivals and so many of them kept awake to witness it. On the last day of the brahmotsavam, the temple flag was hoisted down which marked the end of the festival In the big temple at Madurantakam, chittira brahmotsavam was celebrated for ten days with much delight and reverence. The Lord was taken out in procession for nine days and bathed in the Revathi mandapa. On the last day, everybody went to the Udaiyar sannadhi and offered worship. On all these days, thousands of Hindus actively participated in the festival. Different communities briskly engaged themselves in the celebration of brahmotsavam and the expenditure incurred for each day was voluntarily met by the members of each community even today. According to this practice, the first day expense was borne by the Kaikola Mudaliars, second day by Karnam or Kanakkupillai, third day by Vanniyars, fourth day by Harijans, sixth day by Vaniya Chetty, eighth day by Naidus, ninth day by Chettis and the tenth day by Agamudajya Mudaliars. Thus, it is evident that people of all the communities not only strived hard but co-operated with each other for the promotion of temples.

In general, brahmotsava [brahmotsavam] was followed by vasantosava [vasantosavam] widely known as spring festival celebrated with much vigour and enthusiasm. Originally, it was a secular festival but gained religious prominence in course of time. In some temples in the Madurantakam region, teppotsavam was celebrated on a grand scale. The teppotsavam was organised with great delight. Lord Vinayaka, placed ceremonially in a beautifully decorated float illuminated by lamps was taken round the shrine in the centre of the tank with the chanting of hymns and playing of different musical instruments. Madurantakam region was also famous for teppotsava [teppotsavam]. A number people from the neighbouring villages, towns and even far off places took part in all these occasions. The festivals were fountains of great joy and formed a substantial part of merry making. They offered feast to the eyes, mind, ears and intellectual thinking.[11]

The temple car festival locally known as terottam (Temple Car Festival) was another enjoyable celebration in some temples of Madurantakam region. Terottam or dragging the temple car round the main streets of the town kept the religious spirit alive among the Tamils. In this festival, the bedecked image was installed in a massive chariot and was dragged by coir ropes which were about one furlong in length and six inches in diameter. Thousands of devotees put their hand to the ropes and pulled the chariot. With firm devotion, they joyously proclaimed the name of the deity and the car slowly moved inch by inch over twenty or thirty days before reaching the destination. The thrilling roar of Arohara raised by thousands of devotees to the accompaniment of music and the sight of the majestic car rumpling slowly along the streets furnished an occasion for community worship. The cumulative unconsciousness of the masses broke down the barriers of the ego and gave them a glimpse of the ultimate real. In the car festival involved the co-operative effort of nearby villages from where people were coming to pull the temple cars.[12] All the communities mingled together to celebrate the car festival of the Templein the Madurantakam region. In the car festival, people of all communities co-operated together without any sense of caste barriers or pollution. In the car festival of Kanchipuram, the Parayars were entitled to take the first vadam (rope). There was no distinction on the basis of caste. Untouchability and unapproachability were not heard off in the vicinity of the temples during worship and festivals which integrated the people. The congregation of people at a place gave them enough opportunity to mingle together on friendly terms. Matrimonial alliances were settled on such occasions which enriched their cordial relations.35

Moreover, a number of commemorative festivals such as Dipavali, Sri Rama Navami, Navaratri Sivaratri, Onam and Mahasankranti were celebrated in temples. Certain periodical festivals conducted added the cheerfulness of the people and gaiety of the temples. While the main deities of the respective temples had a series of festivals, all the minor deities too had their own festivals. Thus, one cannot find a temple in the Madurantaka [Madurantakam] region without a festival. Temple festivals formed almost the only means of popular entertainment in the medieval and modern period. Caste system was not strictly observed on festival occasions. Vaishnava Agamas reveal the unique streak of liberation by an open declaration that the touch of untouchables on such occasions, especially during the car festival would not give rise to any defect of pollution.[13] Similarly, the other religious communities of Madurantakam region area were permitted to use the temple tank on the festival occasions. They continue to enjoy this privilege even today.[14] It shows the religious toleration of both religious sects which is an excellent and unique example for mutual cooperation and friendship. Unlike other meetings, religious fairs and festivals, people who gathered there not only observed silence but maintained patience which helped to preserve morality and develop a disciplined life. Thus, temple festivals, though ostensibly religious nature, were of great public significance, providing communal harmony and integration.

Footnotes and references:


A.R.E., 378 of 1959-1960.


Ibid., 379 of 1959-1960.


Raman, K.V., Sri Varadarajaswami Temple-Kanchi, op. cit.. pp. 99-108.


Maduaikanchi, 11:427.


Ahananuru, 116, 11-133.14.


Jayachandran, A.V., Madurai Temple Complex, Madurai, 1985, p. 203.


S.I.I., Vol. VII, No. 485.


Desayar, M., Temples and Social Integration, Nattalam, 2000, p.16.


A.R.E., 281 of 1941-42.


Ibid., 116 of 1939-1940


Subramanian, S.V., and Rajendran, G., (ed.), Heritage of the Tamils-Temple Arts, Madras, 1985, p. 230.


Kalidos, R., Temple Cars of Medieval Tamilaham, Unpublished Ph.D., Thesis, Madurai Kamaraj University, Madurai, 1981, p. 264. 35 Desayar, M., op.cit., pp.19-20


Varadachari, V., op. cit., p. 398.


Balambal, V., ‘The Kapalisvara Temple at Mylapore-Festivals and Impacts’ in Prof. Upendra Thakur Felicitation Volume, Vol. I. Delhi, 1990, p. 108.

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